Wednesday, October 08, 2008

An approaching "Storm" of smartphone competition

Things are heating up even more on the smartphone front as RIM introduced the new BlackBerry Storm which will be available later this month. RIM's BlackBerry owns the enterprise smartphone mobile space. Recent surveys we've completed as part of the PhoCusWright special report "The Future of Mobile Travel" shows the iPhone gaining ground on the BlackBerry with a significant number of frequent business travelers (at least 4 business trips a year) stating that they are considering an iPhone.
The growing smartphone war has positives and negatives for the travel industry. On the positive side, smartphones patterned after the iPhone will have a more practical mobile Web browser experience. The downside comes in application development. Our research is indicating that downloading applications is a more practical strategy than simply repositioning current Website information. In addition to Apple's iPhone App store, Google and Blackberry have announced plans to open app stores as well. The cold reality of this trend is that travel companies who are serious about mobile applications will need to port their app to multiple environments. The iPhone SDK is a good development platform but very closed in nature. In contrast the Google Android platform promises to provide a more open environment for mobile platform development. Even Symbian OS now owned by Nokia is talking about a more open computing approach. Those travel suppliers and intermediaries who believe that simply translating their current Website to work with Web browsers on multiple handsets is a sufficient mobile strategy, will need to rethink that approach as smartphones become the standard device for business and leisure travelers. Yes Web browsing is definitely on the iPhone, but even with the ability to use the two finger pinch to zoom in on Web content, there is a major difference between an iPhone app verses viewing a Web page on the Safari browser.

Here is the screenshot for the Travelocity Web page on the iPhone. Yes you can zoom in but this is still not a practical way to book itineraries.

Compare that to the screenshot of the Travelocity iPhone App. Sure the Travelocity app does not have booking capabilities but the UI is much easier and more practical to use for a future booking platform, which BTW our research shows frequent business and leisure travelers want (especially for irregular operations!).